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There are approximately 800,000 accidents per year caused by the “blind spot” in the rear view mirror arrangement on American cars, many of them resulting in fatalities. I myself have been in two such collisions, both my fault, because I simply failed to see the driver to my rear left, pulled out to change lanes and struck or was struck by the vehicle on my left.

There is definitely a blind spot on American cars’ rear view mirrors. The mirror in the middle of the windshield shows just so much of what is behind you. And the driver’s left side mirror shows another view, but both miss the view of an obect to your left and behind you. The passenger side mirror plays no role in the “blind spot” issue.

The left side mirror in American cars is by regulation a flat mirror with “unit magnification”, reflecting an exact view of what it sees. Same with the mirror in the center of the windshield. The mirror on the right side of an American vehicle is convex, a wide-angle mirror, reflecting much more than the mirror on the left. And on this mirror, again by regulation, is stamped the legend “OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR”. I am insulted by this message, required to be on every single American vehicle’s passenger side mirror. Anyone with any awareness at all can clearly realize that this convex mirror shows a wide angle view in which reflected objects recede more quickly than in the left or center mirrors.

I have driven many vehicles overseas in Europe and the Middle East. During my four years in Kuwait, I drove a Mitsubishi Pajero; in Turkey I drove a Renault sedan for three years; I drove my German brother’s Opel to Amsterdam and back; I rented an Audi sedan in Frankfurt in which  I drove to Vienna and back and more recently, I drove a Fiat around central Italy. And guess what? None of these vehicles had blind spots. Why? Because there were convex mirrors (wide angle mirrors like the ones on the right side of American cars) on both sides of the vehicle. And there were no insulting explanatory legends on either mirror. European car manufacturers evidently decided that people have enough intelligence to perceive that both mirrors are convex, wide angle mirrors, and that objects do indeed recede behind you much more quickly than in regular mirrors. And because both mirrors are convex, there is no blind spot. As the driver, I missed nothing with the “unit” mirror in the center and wide angle mirrors on both sides of the car. I knew what was on my right and behind the car and what was on my left and behind the car.

So what is wrong with us here in the US, that we are required to have a flat mirror on the driver’s side, a flat mirror on the windshield and a convex mirror on the right with that silly legend? These rear view mirrors, by their very nature and placement actually create the hazardous blind spot on the left rear side of the vehicle that is the cause of so many accidents.

These dangerous rules are enshrined in US transportation law and since their publication many years ago, have evidently not ever been questioned or reconsidered. Instead, we have automobile manufacturers inventing “blind spot detection systems” and other expensive electronic gimmicks that warn the driver when there is a vehicle in the blind spot. Or we have a multitude of other “solutions” like aiming the mirrors in inconvenient ways to reduce the blind spot or attaching a small convex mirror to the flat driver’s side mirror.

Would it not be far more reasonable and more economical to simply eliminate the blind spot by requiring convex mirrors on both sides of our vehicles? I cannot believe that our brilliant bureaucrats and technicians in Washington have not figured this out. On the other hand, the companies profiting from “blind spot monitoring systems” and the automobile manufacturers that charge for them probably like things the way they are.

The latest push by the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is to install rear view cameras on all vehicles. Also, I would expect that “blind spot monitoring” systems to also someday be required. While the former are likely necessary to eliminate fatal accidents while backing up, the latter are ridiculous, considering the much more reasonable alternative.

This automobile rear view mirror issue reflects (pardon the pun) yet again how much more reasonable and practical rules regulating certain areas of everyday life are in the European Union than in the U,S, Why can’t we learn from the EU in resolving the “blind spot” problem in American automobile rear view mirrors?

 

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